June 24th, 2013

Why We Sponsor Good Science Writing

by Seema Kumar, Vice President, Enterprise Innovation and Global Health Communication, Johnson & Johnson

It’s simple: We need good science communicators as much as we need good science. Without reliable information—the explanation of fact, the exposure of challenges—science and the solutions it brings us could not exist. Productive inquiry would run dry. Frontiers would ebb.

Our company depends on people who can communicate hard science in lucid language, from the laboratory bench right through to those who engage directly with doctors. We depend on them to get the science right, to check sources, interpret and clarify. Their counsel helps guide our behaviour: promoting sound policies and sparking new discoveries. They bring ideas to life, inspire innovation and collaboration and encourage engagement with Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine in a world that demands educated, informed decision makers. We, Johnson & Johnson and the public, could not effectively govern ourselves or make progress for the benefit of the doctors, nurses, patients and customers we serve otherwise.

When Dr. Paul Janssen, our pharmaceutical company’s namesake, was alive and still heading our research and development operations, he would make a daily circuit around the labs asking each researcher his celebrated catch-phrase-cum-call to action, “What’s new?” Connecting ideas (in his head) and people (in his labs), Dr. Paul became one of the most productive medical innovators and drug discoverers of the 20th century, helping to develop over 80 new medicines—and, in so doing, helping to save or improve the lives of countless people across the globe. More than anything else it was Dr. Paul’s powerful curiosity, robust intellect, and disregard for traditional boundaries that built the business that today proudly bears his name. Anything that fosters the qualities he exemplified ought to be promoted.

That’s why we are supporters of the World Congress of Science Journalists and the Association of British Science Writers Awards. It’s why we attend the American Association for the Advancement of Science Congress annually and maintain relationships with journalists and bloggers, in the interest of being open and transparent. It’s why we participate in the Euroscience Media Committee and host a science journalism internship program, to prop early career science reporters on their feet. We recognize this isn’t just about pharmaceuticals, devices, or consumer products. It’s about science—humankind’s best bet in the pursuit of truth, knowledge and good health. It is impossible to overstate the importance of accurate, evidence-based, trustworthy data grounded in reproducible experiments. Good science writing conveys that.

Misinformation, on the other hand, can be crippling. In DNA, a molecule particularly important to our industry (not to mention, to life itself), mutations on the level of a single base pair out of three billion can have grave repercussions. It can affect a patient’s response to a drug, or how a pathogen interacts with the body. Similarly even minor errors in science communications can also have grave repercussions, not the very least of it is a misinformed public and society.

The world needs more effective science communicators just as much as it needs more pioneering scientists. Dr. Paul, the visionary whom we were fortunate enough to have lead us, was a rare blend of both. His spirit still imbues us. We are not afraid to share ideas. To rise to new challenges. To collaborate, innovate and go beyond. Ultimately, our sponsorship of good science communication extends Dr. Paul’s legacy—reframing his rallying call “What’s new?” into an informed public discourse for our betterment. We do it because it’s simply the right thing to do.


Seema KumarSeema Kumar is Vice President, Enterprise Innovation and Global Health Communication, Johnson & Johnson. In this role, Seema works to position Johnson & Johnson as a leader in innovation and global health. She played a leadership role in enhancing worldwide public awareness and understanding of the Human Genome Project, the effort to map and sequence the blueprint for a human being. Seema serves on several external advisory boards and has published more than 200 news and feature articles on science and medicine, for which she has won several awards, including an Award of Excellence in writing from the American Medical Writers Association and three Gold Medals for Media Relations, Science Education, and Web Development. She holds a Master’s degree in science journalism from the University of Maryland, which included a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, a Bachelor of Science and Communication from the University of Maryland, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Stella Maris College, in Madras, India.

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